Today, Liza Pereira is a Linkage Specialist at Evergreen Health. Feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
INTO THE LIGHT! STEP OUT OF THE DARKNESS AND INTO THE LIGHT
I’m writing this article in honor of “World Aids Day”, acknowledged yearly on December 1st since 1988, which was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. It was meant to bring awareness and education to what was happening, and as a day to mourn and to remember the ones that were lost to this disease.
This day is very important to me! At the beginning of the aids epidemic in 1983, my father died from the complications that came from AIDS, and in 2000, my mother too, passed away – she was HIV+.
I can still remember and see her face when she told me she was tired of fighting, and two weeks later she died. I have been HIV+ for 25 years, which is half of my life. I am now 52 years old, and I never dreamed that I would live this long to tell my story.
I want the Latino community to understand the importance of knowing their status, getting treatment, and becoming undetectable. When I first got the news about my HIV, I was devastated, and I just knew that I was going to die. I became HIV+ through injecting drugs.
Just for the record, I have been drug-free for over 20 years. Getting diagnosed with HIV was a very hard pill to swallow; I stayed in denial for a very long time and fell deeper into the drug scene. It’s the same old story, girl gets introduced to Heroin, girl falls in love, girl leaves everything, and everyone she loves, for the new lover in her life. I do not make excuses for my past, I own every bit of it, and I have overcome it! I continue to seek the help that I need to stay on this path. At the end of the day, I have no regrets about my past, and I use my past experiences to help others. There is much stigma that comes with being HIV+, and I hope that by telling my story, I can dismiss the stigma and let my community know that HIV does not make me the person that I am today.
I have seen the advancement in HIV care and have personal experiences with pill cocktails, where I had to take 14 pills a day just so I could live. Today, I take one pill and call it a day. I have been very blessed and fortunate in these last 25 years, but there are so many that live in silence; they won’t even take their medications because they do not want anyone to find out, or discover their HIV status. I want to let the Latino community know that there is no shame in being HIV+.
Today, there are many resources within our own community to help us along this journey. I understand that still today it can be devastating for someone to be told that they have HIV, but I feel that it would be more devastating not to know, or not do anything about it.